Tuesday, February 26, 2013


       A new book by journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre

 Soul Unsung: Reflections on the Band in Black Popular Music  

The history of soul music has been defined, first and foremost, by a succession of exceptional vocalists. It is impossible to conceive of the genre without them. This does not mean, however, that those who back singers, those who play instruments—bassists, drummers, guitarists, keyboardists and saxophonists—were reduced to nothing other than walk on parts. If Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding were able to move audiences, then their band members and arrangers, the likes of King Curtis and Booker T. Jones, played a key role in creating tracks that had commensurate emotional depth and technical ingenuity. These lesser known figures have heightened our listening pleasure. The book offers insights into the state of contemporary soul and its relationship with jazz, rock and hip-hop. It is precisely because soul has not evolved in a vacuum that it has a canon that is enviably rich in variety. Placing the focus squarely on the band, Le Gendre sets out to change perceptions of one of the great forms of expression to have marked popular culture in the twentieth century, so that those who play are given, alongside those who sing, their rightful place in the pantheon of contemporary music.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

From musiquemachine.com - Dice Factory

Dice Factory is a quartet of tenor saxophone, piano, string bass and drums that plays extremely technical jazz fusion.  Their self titled is a very long and very ambitious album, and a showcase of extraordinary musicianship.  There are 10 songs, mostly between 5 and 9 minute in length.
The band's interplay is not only impeccably tight but also innovative, unconventional at every turn.    Though they play effortlessly, and with a light touch, there is an absurd quantity of notes and time changes, indeed more than would generally be considered humanly possible.  The dense compositions never sit still, with many separate sections, and scalar exhalations from the piano and sax that last for minutes on end, virtuosic in their fluidity.  Through the use of uncountably odd meters, they create a never before heard groove.  The drummer's use of ghost notes and snare accents creates a pulse that is organic and alive.
It can be overwhelming for the brain to process, yet the chord structures are always surprisingly clear.  For all the fractured syncopations of their rhythms, which recall the playful and disjointed music of Ruins, they never stray from melodicism or consonance.  There is a maddening logic to the compositions, they simply move too fast for it to be grasped entirely upon first listening.
There are some truly jawdropping, mind stretching moments here, such as the labyrinthine head of "You're Lucky".  Struggling to absorb it, I felt like I did hearing the great Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy songs for the first time, initially unsure whether what I was hearing was improvisation or composition for its sheer strangeness, and eventually realizing this bizarre and elaborate melody was the central one in the piece!
"Gooch" gets my attention immediately with a stilted metallic rhythm from what sounds like a prepared piano.  Later, there is a complimentary melody, formed from spiralling offbeat arpeggi played in unison by the sax and bass.  Generally, these shorter 5 minute pieces feel more complete and less gratuitous than the longer epics.
The piano player has a pleasantly smooth but overly rounded tone, and stays at a single dynamic level for most of the album.  He prefers dreamy, impressionistic chords as per Debussy, and I hear an echo of McCoy Tyner watery percolations, as well.  He doesn't stray far from a cerebral,  introspective feeling. 
The drummer similarly tends to play softly, and the music unfortunately takes on an overall unchanging softness, despite the abundance of unpredictable figures.  This is the album's lone weakness: the flurry of notes could have felt more meaningful if the band learned to really play out once in a while.
In conclusion, this is a masterful album of musician's music, technically accomplished highbrow jazz.  If that's not your cup of tea, and you can't see why musicians should indulge in such complexities, you'll find this album as passionless and masturbatory as the rest.  However, if you have an ear trained for such things, you'll see "Dice Factory" for the smartly composed, tonally organized, forward thinking gem it is.
Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5
Josh Landry

For more information, go to our web site here.
http://www.babellabel.co.uk

Barbacana review from Jazz News, France










Review from Jazznews in France

Four inquiring minds from both sides of the Channel: the French are Sylvain Darrifourcq (Emile Parisien, Q..) on drums, Adrien Dennefeld (Ozma, We Are All Americans) on guitar and keyboards, with the English Kit Downes, keyboards, and James Allsopp, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet. It's a suite of pieces in the form of a sonorous progression playing skilfully with metres and loops, marrying acoustic and electric sounds. Rathher expansive but perhaps more reflective, the quartet focusses its work on slowness - at the risk of distending themselves - but making sure to keep a foundation of a rhythmic pulse - their signature sound. The collective awareness is already there, their shared intuition rather needing to ripen in order to assert their ideas. One to watch.


More information and order the album HERE



Tuesday, February 19, 2013



This week's  News From the Tower


 Dan Messore tells us what to expect from this month's View From the Tower Sunday 24 February 3.30 at Vortex Jazz Club
 The pad is an ongoing playlist...this month’s addition comes in the form of Gareth Lockranes' One For Bheki. Gareth has arranged a version for us and I'm very excited to play it. Guiltily, I've been away on holiday for two weeks, so haven't been able to add others for this instalment of News From the Tower. That said, the pad is ever growing and the band is sounding great! One for Bheki was written by Gareth for one of his all time mentors and friends, the great, late Bheki Mseleku. In this track Lockrane really shows his skills as a composer (he is very active in film scoring as well as being one of the premier improvising flautists in the world today) who draws from a very wide and colourful palette.
Working with Gareth has been a real treat. He’s a fantastic player and a kind hearted guy. I've been very inspired by his improvising and hope to work more with him in the future. His recent release The Strut has also been a great source getting my creative juices flowing for an organ project I'm working on. More about that later...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jazz in Soho, 1950-1967 - a plea for help


Reminiscences of Soho in the 50s and 60s. 




I am giving a talk in Hamburg in May about jazz in Soho from 1950 (when Club 11 started) to 1967, when Ronnie Scott's Old Place on Gerrard Street closed. If you have any interesting leads or thoughts, please let me know. I have had some lovely memories from John Jack, a reading list from Vortex fan Alan Hayward and more. I'll be further trawling the National Jazz Archive and British Library. (The photo above is of Archer Street, where all the musicians met regularly who were looking for gigs!)

Duncan Heining's book “Trad Dads, Be-boppers and Free Fusioneers” is a must read. It is rather dense at times, making it easy to lose the thread. But definitely worth the persistence to make one realise how vital the scene was. It's probably the time when the music really consolidated over here. Rendell-Carr, SME, The Johnny Dankworth Seven and many, many more are seminal groups in the history of jazz worldwide. We are lucky that many of these musicians are still around to give the scene a creative boost, such as Kenny Wheeler, Evan Parker over here and regular visitors such as Louis Moholo-Moholo.

It's an intriguing time in Soho generally. Perhaps it's finest period? Not just the jazz, but also the night club scene (such as Quaglino's, Oak Room), the artists (Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon hanging out at the Colony Club), the wordsmiths (including the start of Private Eye). Peter Cook's Establishment Club brought over Lenny Bruce and Dudley Moore could be heard playing in the basement most nights.

The jazz was rife. Perhaps the musician leitmotif for this talk is Ronnie Scott. In 1950, he had started Club 11 with John(ny) Dankworth and 1967, when the period of this talk will end, coincides with the end of his Old Place in Gerrard Street. But there's much more. This period also coincides with the ending of the MU ban on US musicians and may well look at the impact of that, the rise of the 60s bands and the pressure it placed on jazz. Joe Harriott was beginning the UK approach to free jazz, while Derek Bailey and John McLaughlin could be heard playing together....

There's already a Google Map on Lost London Jazz Venues which I am constantly updating. While I did a talk last year on that subject, there is a version of the presentation also available here. http://towerofjazz.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/lost-london-jazz-venues.html

My Google map is on http://goo.gl/maps/ALd5c



Saturday, February 16, 2013

How the music world is changing




People have a stupid definition of the “music industry” - solely confining it to the major labels and chains in the UK. This con leads them to believe that the industry is in a mess. That is true up to a point, and is certainly the case based on what goes on if, say, your retail fix only comes from HMV.

Rather, I would reckon that the music world is in a permanent state of flux. Just as in the past, we have changed formats, so we are changing them now. It’s just that this time the major labels are no longer in control and forcing the rest of us to dance to their tunes. The smaller labels have to be cannier than ever to take advantage of new opportunities. So it potentially gives a degree of freedom that hasn't been around for a while.


In reality, there is much music that is thriving – not least in areas in which Babel is involved. (I probably have already seen 15 amazing gigs at the Vortex alone so far this year, such as 2 nights of Kenny Wheeler Quintet, 5 nights of ICP Orchestra with possibly the last performances with the band by Misha Mengelberg, Rich Tailors (Blink meets Mediums), Emile Parisien, beloved Django Bates Belov├Ęd and more.)


So, Babel is “investing” as heavily as ever in releasing some of the music that is being made today and working closely with the musicians. We already have a great number of new releases in preparation. Line-ups are imaginative (such as Steve Davis's bassless Human), or indeed the concepts (such as Bruno Heinen's radical reworking of Stockhausen or Moss Freed's literature-meets-music). A few are already here and can be bought online, either in digital or physical form. We'll have another five by the end of the month, which will then be available for pre-order or online soon after that.


And we are delighted by the recognition that many of the releases are receiving from the critical community around the world. That is one of the great developments that we can thank the internet for. Nevertheless, this music has also to be purchased to make it viable for us all to continue. We don't just want to create an archive for the few. But with the dissemination means now available, the constraints in hearing this music anywhere are now removed!

Babel is also making forays to bring out more music from artists based outside London, such as Andy Champion's ACV from Newcastle (and produced by Chris Sharkey), Steve Davis's Human (with a starting point of Northern Ireland). Later in the year, we'll be releasing the duo album of Glasgow Improvisers' Orchestra's Raymond MacDonald and Marilyn Crispell.
Stylistically too there is quite a range in prospect. From Alexander Hawkins' piano solo album, which was beautifully recorded by Alex Bonney and returning from manufacture in about 6 weeks, through Bruno Heinen's Tierkreis to the lovely improvising trio of Rachel Musson, Liam Noble and Mark Sanders.
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This is a preamble to the forthcoming Babel newsletter which will be available in the next few days. If you want a copy email me on oliver@babellabel.co.uk


Friday, February 15, 2013

Babel Babble, 12 February 2013

About duos this week. Can you think of any more?

Schubert - Die Sterne
Peter Zinovieff, Aisha Orazbayeva - Our (2 and 3) from Outside
Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus - Dreamwork (From Didymoi Dreams)
Julian Arguelles - Fasa (From Scapes)
Alexander Hawkins/Louis Moholo-Moholo - Prelude to a Kiss (from Keep Your Heart Straight)
June Tabor - She Moves Among Men (from Abyssinians)
Iain Ballamy - All The Things You Are (from Pepper St. Interludes)
Evan Parker/Lawrence Casserley - Aulos (from Dividuality)
Aki Takase/Han Bennink - Zankapfel (from Two for Two)
Harry Beckett - For You For Me (from Passion and Possession)
Chet Baker/Philip Catherine - Cherokee
Christine Tobin - Rags and Old Iron (From Deep Song)
Marilyn Crispell/Raymond MacDonald - distant voices (from Parallel Moments)

e.g.
Andrew McCormack/Jason Yarde



Babel Babble, Dec-January

A Catch-Up from some recent playlists

18 December 2012

Mopo - Hullun Valssi
Peter Sellers - All The Things You Are
Christine Tobin- The Second Coming (from Sailing To Byzantium)
Dave Brubeck - Santa Claus is Coming to Town from A Dave Brubeck Christmas
Joni Mitchell - Talk To Me
Billy Jenkins - The Duke and Me (from Sadtimes.co.uk)
Julian Arguelles - The Owl (from Scapes)
Alexander Hawkins - Owl (Friendly) (from All There Ever Out)
Billy Cobham - Thinking of You (From A Funky Thide of Sings)
John McLaughlin - Spectrum (From Extrapolation)
John Taylor - Winter (From Pahses)
Philip Catherine - Seven Teas (from Cote Jardin)
Bugge Wesseltoft - Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen (from It's Snowing on My Piano)
Loose Tubes - Yellow Hill (from Loose Tubes)

29 January

Steve Arguelles - Squeeze (from Busy Listening)
Stan Tracey - Just Squeeze Me (From We Still Love You Madly)
Sermisy - Je N'Ay Plus D'Affection (from Les Cris de Paris)
Acoustic Ladyland - Marching Dice (from Camouflage)
Mali Music - Kela Village (From Mali Music)
Richard Bolton - Afro-Samba (from City Life)
Finn Peters - Ballad Boy (from Su-Ling)
Julian Arguelles - Intro to Hix (from Scapes)
Steve Arguelles - Rosie (from Blue Moon In A Function Room)
Duw A Wyr
Kitch's Be Bop Calypso (From London's The Place For Me Vol.1)
Charlie Parker - Anthropology


Sunday, February 10, 2013



Happy Carnival 2013

It’s carnival time in many parts of the world but for me two of the best are in Salvador da Bahia and Trinidad – maybe because they are the ones I am familiar with and have been fortunate to enjoy on many occasions. Until instantaneous teleporting is a reality it is unfortunate to have to choose between the two. While the two carnivals have much in common they are also very different. Both are places historically marked by European colonization and African slavery, and hugely influence by Catholicism which observes the coming of the Lent – a 40 day period from Ash Wednesday until the eve of Easter of fasting; abstinence and penance.  Such deprivations were made bearable by pre-Lenten festivities such as carnival - the word itself deriving from the latin ‘carne vale’ meaning farewell to flesh. Abstaining from eating meat and other foods; as well as having sex ... That’s not to say that Christians ‘invented’ carnival, because similar festivities or rituals dating back to pre-Christian times existed as part of a communities calendar of rituals and festivities. The point is in each historical epoch ‘Carnival’ was (is) a number of festivals rolled into one. Although some became obsolete and died out, newer celebrations were added providing new vigour and meaning for celebrants. 
In Britain many of the festivities associated with Shrove Tuesday died out and Pancake Day may be all that is left to mark the last day for enjoyment and excesses before Lent kicks in. Countries that received greater cultural influences from Latin European cultures such as Brasil and Trinidad, and settled by French, Spanish and Portuguese people, developed rich and distinctive carnival traditions that go back to the 18 Century if not earlier. But that’s not all: these were also slave-owning societies. Mixed European and African cultures existed side by side eventually giving birth to carnival celebrations that added new characteristics. They were not direct copies of European or African cultural practices that could be traced back to a single source, but rather the product of many sources out of which something 'new' emerged and said something about the people, their histories and the places they occurred in.
Unlike carnival celebrations in England, carnival festivities in Brasil and Trinidad last for a whole season – starting soon after Christmas climaxing the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. During the season there are parties in Trinidad called fetes with live music as in Salvador da Bahia with the ensaios. Needless to say there is a lot going on and music is one of the key elements in the trinity of Mas, Pan and Calypso in Trinidad. Many of the carnival events constitute an important part of the social scene in the social calendar where the status conscious go to be seen although many people also go simply for a good time
For me carnival is not 'carnival' without music which is why every year there’s a glut of new songs. In Trinidad these always provide a talking point between friends, neighbours, or strangers riding in a maxi-taxi. Over the years the soca beat has undoubted speeded up. Just compare the difference between Bunji Garlin’s 2013 Savage http://goo.gl/xtX5f  and the original by Maestro in 1976 http://goo.gl/wTfzP
One hot topic that surfaced on twitter, youtube and facebook recently was whether Bunji was singing ‘cow’, ‘cloud’ or ‘crowd’.  http://goo.gl/bi0XS Who cares? It’s a big tune and Trinis like nothing better than old talk.
The Soca Monarch 2013 finals that took place on Friday in Port of Spain marked a comeback by the godfather of soca Super Blue aka Austin Lyons who tied in first place with Machel Montano with Fantastic Friday http://goo.gl/f83Oc  Super Blue was not only my favourite to win in the power category but also the people’s favourite – such was the love! I have to say I agree with the woman who shouted when the results were announced ‘That’s no tie, Super win! What they trying, that could never be a tie!’ . How true with Roy Cape All stars and 3Canal providing backing vocals. Besides hasn’t Machel won for the past three years? The Soca Monarch final was always one of my favourite not-to-be-missed events up until 2011 when poor management and production seem set on killing it off as well as the people attending it. Blaxx was my favourite for the Groovy category although I like Iwer’s Iwer's Bubble too...
Soca music is not my choice of music for relaxing to because it's far too noisy and ram ba tam.  But when I hear Bunji’s  Savage I can't help wanting to dance down the road. Isn't that the point of the music - to make you move - everyone moving as one collective body down the road... Maybe it’s because it is carnival time! Carnival is about taking over the streets and using it for purposes outside of its normal everyday uses – disrupting the norm. Based on some research I carried out some years ago people claimed to like dancing in the streets because it gave them a sense of ‘freedom’. In both Trinidad and Salvador da Bahia this freedom was about letting go: forgetting work; responsibilities; misery and dreariness. It is a celebration of excesses and a giving in to madness that you can't explain because it just takes you. It is not a solution for anything but a temporary escape and this is what gives carnival its subversive potential.

‘Freedom’ is inscribed in carnival festivities in Trinidad through the Canne brulee – initially a way of organizing bands of slaves and the work of cane-burning, or outing fires on plantations. The work was accompanied by drumming and watched over by overseers who cracked their whips to keep the pace. Its re-enactment complete with blowing horns, mimicry of the slave drivers with thrashing whips was how the slaves celebrated their freedom after 1838 partly as a remembrance of slavery but also a celebration of human triumph. To me Jour Ouvert is the most ritualistic part of Trinidad’s carnival pulling together what is distinctive about it. It is in emancipation the genesis of Trinidad’s tradition carnival characters –the Devil, Jab malassie, Dragon, imps, Dame Lorraines etc, and performance emerged. Although the Canne brulee is hardly mentioned any more many of its characteristics exist in Jour Ouvert which takes place in the dark in the early hours of Monday morning when thousands of devils, imps, bats and creatures covered in paint and mud appear on the streets, some in rags and others in drag moving to the sound of an iron rhythm section or pounding soca music. They claim the streets and by extension their 'freedom', and the only thing required of anyone is that they let goI've heard that the British artist Chris Ofili does a pretty good bat impersonation. Imagine! It’s no coincidence that Super Blue’s song begins with the sound of a blowing horn summoning everyone to come and participate in the big party. All my friends will be preparing for Jour Ouvert. While I’m not there in body, I will be there in spirit flying over the top of Port of Spain. Congratulations to Phase II  led by Len Boogsie Sharpe for winning Panorama 2013 and a Happy Carnival  to all...

The illustration above is by Melton Prior and depicts Carnival in Port of Spain in 1888

Monday, February 04, 2013


News from The Tower 

Spread the word...the next date for View From The Tower is 24 February 3.30 pm at The Vortex Jazz Club

Dan Messore brings his knowledge, enthusiasm and passion together in his curation of the View From The Tower. Each month he is accompanied by some of the UK's finest musicians in a revolving line-up, and on occasion includes a special guest, to take the audience on a delightful journey through the sound scapes of British composition. Last month's line-up can be accessed here http://goo.gl/fFLP3

Dan's musing on the next instalment...

'This next instalment of the residency will see the addition of Gareth Lockrane's One For Bheki. From Gareth's album The Strut, this is a fantastic record and a showing of both great British composition and performance. Having Gareth in the residency line up is real honour. He is arranging this piece for us and I´m very excited to play it and add it to our ever growing pad of music. Other pieces I´m aiming to get in this month, are something from Kit Downes (from his Golden album), and piece of Keith Tippett. I´m arranging to go and spend the day with Keith at his home to discuss his thoughts on the piece and to gain an insight into his musical approach...' More later...

Dan Messore on Babel Indigo Kid  http://goo.gl/jv7Vl  Lacuna Talk On The Step http://goo.gl/HKB4Z